He was the only President to serve without having been elected President or Vice President. He was a member of the House of Representatives for 24 years from 1949 - 1973, and became Minority Leader of the House. When Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned during Richard Nixon's presidency, Nixon appointed Ford (with the approval of the Senate) to take his place. When Nixon then resigned in the wake of the Watergate scandal, Ford assumed the presidency, proclaiming that "our long national nightmare is over". Ford gave Nixon a blanket pardon for any crimes he might have committed while President.
The economy was a great concern during the Ford administration. In response to rising inflation, Ford went before the American public on television in October, 1974 and asked them to "whip inflation now" (WIN); as part of this program, he urged people to wear "WIN" buttons. However, most people recoghnized this as simply a public relations gimmick without offering any effective means of solving the underlying problem. At the time inflation was around 7%, a relatively modest number in restrospect, but still enough to discourage investment and push capital overseas and into government bonds.
In the aftermath of Watergate, the Democrats scored major gains in both the House and the Senate in the 1974 elections. Ford and Congress battled over legislation, with Ford vetoing scores of Democrat-supported bills.
Ford also faced a foreign policy crisis with the Mayaguez Incident. In 1975, shortly after the Khmer Rouge took power in Cambodia, Cambodians seized an American merchant ship, the Mayaguez, in international waters. Ford dispatched Marines to rescue the crew, but the marines landed on the wrong island and met unexpectedly stiff resistance just as, unknown to the US, the Mayaguez sailors were being released. Several American soldiers were killed in the fighting.
While in Sacramento, California on September 5, 1975, a follower of incarcerated cult leader Charles Manson named Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme attempted to assassinate Ford, but was thwarted by a Secret Service agent. 17 days later another women also tried to kill Ford.
It is believed that Ford's pardoning of Nixon, along with the continuing economic problems, may have cost him the election in 1976. His campaign may also have been hampered by a strong challenge that year for the nomination in his party by Ronald Reagan. He also made a major gaffe during the campaign when he insisted Eastern Europe was not occupied by the Soviets.
During his tenure in the House of Represenenatives, Ford was chosen to serve on the Warren Commission, a special task force set up to investigate the causes of, and quell rumors regarding the assasination of President John F. Kennedy. The Commission eventually concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald had acted alone in killing the President, a conclusion sometimes disparaged by conspiracy theorists as the "Lone Nut Theory". Though the Commission's findings have been widely criticized, and claims of new information regarding the assasination continue to be published, most Americans probably accept the Comission's findings.
Ford was from Michigan and played football for the University of Michigan. Despite his athleticism, Ford had a not-entirely deserved reputation for being extremely clumsy. Television footage often showed him stumbling down the stairs, bumping his head on the doorway of Air Force One, or walking into other people. This stereotype was greatly popularized by a series of skits on Saturday Night Live featuring Chevy Chase who portrayed Ford as a man who was literally incapable of taking a single step without falling over or destroying something. Many of Ford's supporters have since denounced this stereotype as unfair, saying the President was no more clumsy than any normal person- except his blunders were just far more popularized.
In 1980, Ford was nearly nominated by the Republican party to serve as Vice President under Ronald Reagan. Reagan at the last moment changed his mind however, and chose his biggest rival for the nomination, George H. W. Bush.
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